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On Michigan’s second possession, DeShawn Sims drove to the hoop, put up a shot, and Cole Aldrich swatted it with authority. After a whistle at the other end, Michigan coach John Beilein, hands clapping furiously, encouraged his 6-foot-8 center: “Keep challenging him. Keep challenging him.”
Sims’ nodding head affirmed the instruction, but his retreating eyes said something along the lines of, “Easy for you to say.”
Aldrich, it seemed, was on his way to dominating, except it didn’t work out that way in Saturday’s 75-64 Kansas victory.
Scoreless for the first 10 minutes, Sims finished with 19 points and seven rebounds. Failing to make a field goal for the first time since the 2008 national-title game, Aldrich tallied five points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots.
As has been the case so often, Aldrich spent a lot of time coughing into his jersey and trying to catch his breath. He’s averaging 11.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 3.5 blocked shots and is shooting .541. His sophomore averages: 14.9 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.7 blocks, .598 shooting.
With the improvement of Marcus Morris and the addition of Xavier Henry, Aldrich isn’t needed as much as a scorer and has more help as a rebounder, but there is more to it. He hasn’t played as aggressively and attempted just three field goals Saturday.
“We can say we didn’t get the ball to him,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “I don’t know if he did much to really put himself in positions to score today. He’s a lot better than he’s played. He ended up getting some rebounds and that kind of stuff, but he obviously hasn’t scored well this year, except for the Memphis game. ... He’s just not making shots. He’s probably not as confident as what he needs to be. And that’ll change. He’s a really good player. He just hasn’t played to that the last few games.”
Self, just as Aldrich never would, didn’t volunteer what could be the cause of his center’s sluggish play. The coach had to be asked: Is he still sick?
“He’s been fighting a bug,” Self said. “But one thing about Cole — he’s the best kid — he’ll never make an excuse. Never. And today, Sims was a tough matchup for him because he gets him away from the basket and drives him, but still Cole knows he can score better and be more of a presence for us. He’s had a bug, but the thing about it is, if you play, you have to perform. Nobody cares if you’ve got a cold or a bum knee. If you’re out there, you’ve got to do the job. He understands that.”
What’s wrong with Cole?
“The big fella just ain’t himself right now,” senior guard Sherron Collins said. “He’s not playing too well. He’s probably in a little funk right now. I know Cole. He’ll bounce out of it. He’ll be all right.”
Is he still sick?
“He’s been using his inhaler, his asthma pump a lot,” Collins said. “He’s gasping for more air out there. He’s getting tired more quickly.”
Said junior Brady Morningstar: “There’s just a lid on the goal right now. ... But hey, if he could score now or score at the end of the year, I’d rather have him score at the end of the year.”
Exactly 346 other D-I teams would love to own the challenge of how to nurture Aldrich back to dominance.